A.A. George: Gen Con’s Featured Speaker Panels Cannot Be Missed

Gen Con did something pretty great this year, which is to say, it made sure to ensure gender parity across its guests and featured speakers and also started to address other disparities, too. Some of you may know that I cut my teeth in the paper RPG industry, working for over a decade with White Wolf and other game companies — I know too then that the game industry’s audience and its creators are wildly diverse, even as the industry often only chose to actively reflect the white guys like, well, yours truly. A.A. George wanted to write a little bit about what Gen Con has done this year in order to hype you up for what is likely to be a great con. (I won’t be there, razza frazza sadness. Maybe next year!) Here goes:

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Gen Con: one of the oldest and largest gaming conventions in the world, where many important and famous members of the industry meet and mingle with casual hobbyists in an epic tribute to all things geeky. From trends in design to the hottest new releases, what happens here reflects what’s happening in analogue gaming.

This year I had the pleasure of sitting on the committee that chose the Guest of Honor and Industry Insider Featured Speakers at Gen Con.

Selecting the Featured Speakers was a fantastic – if daunting – challenge. An incredible pool of veteran and award-winning designers, organizers, writers, academics, artists, critics, and activists applied in droves for one of these coveted spots. This was Gen Con and we had to get it right.

The result? A beautiful testament to what gaming was, is, and will be: a powerful line-up of voices that represent decades of experience in the industry as well as emerging, innovative, and disruptive voices that are changing how we look at, understand, and play games.

Here are three reasons why the Guest of Honor and Industry Insider Featured Speaker panels can’t be missed:

1) You will meet many of the most talented and exciting people working in gaming today. Mike Pondsmith, the creator of Cyberpunk, Castle Falkenstein and a host of other games is the Guest of Honor this year. He is the founder of R. Talsorian Games, previously an Xbox design manager, former president of GAMA, and a rockstar speaker. Mike Pondsmith is a living legend.

The Featured Speakers boasts a star-studded cast.

Wesley Schneider is the editor-in-chief of Paizo, co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, author of Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound, and is developing a game supplement for Vampire Hunter D.

Katherine Alejandra Cross is a PhD student in sociology at CUNY, a cultural critic who has written for Rolling Stone and Bitch Magazine, and a game critic whose work has appeared in Gamasutra, Polygon, and Offworld, and a professional speaker who has spoken at conferences like GDC and SXSW.

Jessica Price is the project manager at Paizo, a writer and director of the animated series Nanovor, which has garnered over a million views on Youtube, a writer and producer for Microsoft’s Kinect launch portfolio, and a writer for State of Decay 2.

Emily Care Boss is a game theorist, editor, writer and award winning game designer, founder of Black & Green Games and co-designer of Bubblegumshoe.

Anna Kreider is a game designer, illustrator, diversity consultant, and activist who has worked for Onyx Path, Green Ronin, and Wizards of the Coast and whose industry-watched blog Go Make Me A Sandwich has had more than two million views.

Kathryn Hymes, co-founder of Thorny Games, is an award-winning game designer who did her Masters in Applied Mathematics at Stanford, was the first computational linguist hired by Facebook, and utilized gamification strategies at Foursquare.

Hakan Seyalioglu is a Fulbright Scholar with a PhD in Mathematics with a focus in Cryptography from UCLA, a software engineer at Google working on Youtube and Google Play, and the co-founder of Thorny Games.

And so many more amazing speakers!

2) You’re going to consume a fantastic lineup of panels on a wide range of topics that will make you question your assumptions and look at gaming in new ways:

RPGs are more mainstream than ever, but many of us have stories about a game that went bad and how a potential player lost interest in the hobby. Making RPGs Welcoming To New Players will teach you what you need to know to ensure new players feel invited, welcomed and eager to come back to the table.

Want to know how to include sex in games from a woman’s perspective? Right There On The Kitchen Table: Sex in RPGs brings in three great female writers and designers who understand the complexities of representing sex in gaming.

Are you an aspiring game designer who wants to learn game development using established systems? Hacking As Other: Minority Game Design is a fantastic workshop that helped launch some great new games, including the hotly anticipated Bluebeard’s Bride.

So many RPGs are designed around fighting. But roleplay is more than the melees. Beyond Combat will open up a whole universe of gaming without all the battles.

Roleplaying is all about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, understanding a different perspective. But how do we tell stories that are outside of our own lived experiences? Designing With Empathy will give you the tools to approach sensitive and challenging topics to create memorable, powerful play.

Are you a victim of imposter syndrome and feel paralyzed in the creative process? 5 Ways of Finding Your Spark will reignite your passion, your belief in yourself and your creative powers.

Writers and designers have struggled with creating honest and authentic trans characters. Three talented trans women will show you the way to making your stories and games ring true in Writing Trans Characters For Games & Fiction.

We all have powerful, personal stories inside of us. But telling them is tricky, sometimes even scary! Storytelling & Self-Censorship will give you the tools to tell incredible, intimate stories through gaming.

And many more!

3) You will be part of the gaming zeitgeist! This year’s Industry Insider Featured Speakers famously made history for finally reaching gender parity, capturing the spotlight in news outlets ranging from the BBC and the Washington Post to BoingBoing and Tor.com. It’s a game-changing year for Gen Con and you will get to be part of this special moment in history, hearing from the women and men who are making gaming relevant and exciting to wider audiences than ever before.

This is only a taste of the enormous talent, knowledge, and experience that the Featured Speakers have to offer you. Gen Con’s Speaker slate is spotlighting the Microsofts of the gaming world – industry giants who represent the foundation of modern gaming side by side with the Teslas of the gaming world – exciting, cutting-edge, inventive industry pioneers who are shaking up and expanding what gaming can be. Simply being in the same room with these people will open your mind to new possibilities, inspire your own gaming dreams, and help lead you down a path to one day join them as a future Gen Con Featured Speaker!

If you’re used to being told, “gaming can’t do that,” or “you can’t do that,” this year’s Gen Con will show you, “yes we can,” and “yes gaming can!”